Gongol.com Archives: June 2023

Brian Gongol

June 23, 2023

Science and Technology At some point, you stop pouring motor oil on the ground

Compared with the vast sweep of history, it was practically only yesterday when motorists thought they were doing the right thing when following advice to bury used motor oil inside a backyard hole full of rocks. That wasn't the right thing to do, of course, but holding such a view was a mistake of the age rather than a personal shortcoming. ■ We're making similar mistakes today, even though we obviously aren't aware of our transgressions. There's always something new about which we are being naive. The remedy, though, is to constantly try to think farther ahead about the things we do and use. ■ It's not hard to find people who are aghast or even apoplectic about decisions being widely made today, especially related to the consequences of carbon emissions and (likely) anthropogenic climate change. But it's important to realize that indignation doesn't change the past, nor is it possible to change customs, habits, or technologies overnight. ■ A certain amount of trouble is already inevitable, it seems, and our energies are best deployed in some part by trying to find adaptations and remedies for damage already done. But we also need to account for the likelihood that some of the most useful answers for the long term are still undiscovered or insufficiently mature -- think pilot tests for atmospheric carbon removal -- and we will probably be able to accomplish far more by accelerating some of the technological research and development than by turning to hairshirts and extreme self-denial. ■ That isn't a call to inaction, of course, but rather for recognition that between the time of awareness of a problem and the arrival of a solution often lies a period of uncomfortable awareness, when the solutions available to us are often inadequate and relatively unproductive -- and we know it and simply have to endure it. The good news, if we can keep our heads on straight, is that progress often accelerates upon itself once we get it underway. ■ A child saving their weekly allowance for retirement won't get very far and will look utterly naive (and probably unhappy) in the process. Forgoing substantial savings in childhood in favor of studying hard in school so as to substantially improve one's earnings capacity makes a much bigger difference in the long term. We are in such a place as a species now; we can scrimp and save as relative "children" for now, but we're probably going to make vastly more headway by accelerating our scientific and technological research to make much faster and more substantial moves in the medium term than by subjecting ourselves to extreme changes now.